Legislation & Lobbying

Proposed Laws Target Abusive Bosses

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Nobody wants to work for a jerk. But unless abusive bosses violate specific prohibitions, such as discriminating against someone because of race or gender, treating employees badly generally isn’t illegal.

That could be changing, however. At least four states are considering legislation that would give workers a right to sue a supervisor for behaving badly, reports the Los Angeles Times.

It isn’t entirely clear what behavior, exactly, such laws would ban. A proposed New Jersey bill, for instance, would provide for as much as $25,000 in damages for creating “an abusive work environment,” and similar legislative efforts are being pursued in New York, Vermont and Washington. In California, an advocacy group is trying to revive a sue-the-boss bill that fizzled in 2003 without ever making it out of legislative committee.

Of course, it doesn’t take a law for a company to enact a policy requiring bosses not to abuse employees. And workers have other ways, besides litigation, to make known their feelings about unpleasant supervisors. Today, for instance, the AFL-CIO, one of the country’s biggest and best-known unions, will name the worst boss in the country, based on the results of an Internet contest. One entry, the Times reports, “is about a lawyer who called the office every morning to give instructions as he brushed his teeth and conducted other business in his bathroom.”

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